With the Christmas Period over, you might be opting for a month of alcohol free activities. The ubiquitous ‘Dry January’ established in 2013 caught momentum and for the last 8 years has seen an influx of campaigners joining the ranks. Dr Sarah Clark, Consultant Gastroenterologist at New Victoria Hospital, explains exactly how alcohol affects your liver when consumed in large amounts along with the benefits of easing off of alcohol this month.
A history of Dry January
The first alcohol free movement dates back to January 1942 when the Finnish government launched a ‘Sober January’ campaign against the Soviet Union as part of their war effort.
In 2013 Alcohol Change UK officially adopted the campaign and by 2014 had trademarked the event the aptly titled ‘Dry January’.
Alcohol affects most areas of the body including the brain, mouth, throat, heart, breasts, stomach, liver and reproductive system and also impacts on mental health, alcohol misuse being the biggest risk factor for death, ill-health and disability among 15 – 49 year olds in the UK. Around 7,700 people (approximately 2%) die every year in the UK from alcohol – related liver disease.
With these statistics it is not surprising that the ‘Dry January’ campaign has gathered momentum in the UK , with the Dry January initiative asking that people abstain from the consumption of alcohol for the entire month.
How alcohol affects the Liver
The liver is the largest organ in the body and is responsible for a host of functions including helping with the digestion of food, fighting infections, removing toxins from the blood, producing bile and hormones, enzymes and proteins.
It takes the body approximately an hour to process 1 alcoholic beverage. When the liver has to process a lot of alcohol this can result in harmful substances being produced and can cause liver cell death.
Continued alcohol consumption can cause:
Fatty Liver: a build-up of fat in the liver cells
Alcohol Hepatitis: inflammation in the liver which can lead to liver failure and death
Alcoholic Cirrhosis: the development of scar tissue in the liver affecting the liver function
Liver cancer: cirrhosis sufferers are at a much higher risk of developing liver cancer
The liver is able to regenerate and if an individual can stop drinking this gives the liver best chance of recovery, from a mild fatty liver to advanced liver disease.
How alcohol affects the rest of the body
Alcohol, when consumed in large quantities, has damaging effects on the rest of the body too. Alcohol is a causal factor in more than 60 medical conditions including: mouth, throat, stomach, and breast cancers; high blood pressure, and depression.
Chronic drinking is also the source of sexual and reproduction issues; large consumptions can prevent sex hormone production that increases the risk of infertility while drinking large amounts of alcohol can cause erectile dysfunction.
Psychologically, alcohol is a major player with many mental health issues stemming from alcohol misuse.
How Dry January can benefit you
Going dry this January can give you a head start on your health goals this year. Not only will your digestive and circulatory systems cope better this winter but you might also notice improved mental health.
Below are a number of ways your body can benefit from saying no to alcohol this month, your body will thank you for it.
- More energy: without the drain on the body’s blood sugar level and dehydration you will full more awake and energized.
- Better quality of sleep: alcohol disrupts your usual rapid eye movement which is when the body restores itself.
- Increased concentration: cutting down on alcohol will improve concentration and general cognitive functioning.
- Improved memory: REM sleep helps the brain to consolidate ‘procedural memory’ like learning how to do tasks as well as slow-wave sleep that augments visual learning.
- Better mood: alcohol can initially be a relaxant but very quickly can cause a lowering of mood and anxiety.
- Weight Loss: alcohol is packed with calories, meaning each drink eliminated will inevitably bring weight down to a healthy level.
- Lower blood pressure: too much alcohol can affect the muscles in the blood vessels causing them to become narrower.
- Better immune system: high doses of alcohol suppress the immune system meaning the body is much more susceptible to diseases and infections compared with a body free of alcohol.
- A healthier heart: high blood pressure will put a strain on the heart muscle which can often lead to Cardiovascular disease.
- A healthier liver: overtime alcohol will have a big impact on the liver and prolonged alcohol can reduce its ability to function normally.
Top Tips for going Dry this January
To help you get ready for what can be a challenging month why not try out our tips:
Choose a mocktail or non-alcoholic drink
Keep a record: track your alcohol units each week
Enlist a friend or supporter to join the initiative with you
Make it a competition amongst friends
Download the Dry January app